Bianca Nemelc Imagines the Antarctic as a Place of Belonging
Last year, Bianca Nemelc was commissioned by National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions to create a series of paintings for a project in the Antarctic. This collaboration had an indelible impact on Nemelc’s latest body of vibrant work, on view through May 7th in her solo exhibition “Austral Summer” at Hashimoto Contemporary in New York. She pulls inspiration from the natural wonders of the Antarctic, unifying landmassses with lushly hued Brown figures from which ice portals, waterfalls, and forests ripple in and out.
“This was the first time I had imagined myself and these figures in a landscape that I did not have a direct familial connection to,” the Bronx-based artist shared. “Growing up in the city, I already had a limited relationship to the natural world. The Antarctic almost felt alien.”
In exploring the unfamiliar, Nemelc finds the familiar as she imagines alternate realities where a summer in the southern hemisphere—a season of blinding white with 24 hours of sunlight a day during the solstice—is one where she also belongs. “I learned very early on in the work that putting Brown figures into this world naturally changes the landscape into something unrecognizable,” Nemelc said. “It becomes warm, less frozen. It becomes softer and stops being the Antarctic and becomes an extension of me.”
For years, Nemelc has traced her family roots in a signature style that blurs figurative and landscape art. The self-taught painter alludes to the paradox of diasporic peoples living in urban environments through her use of form, while simultaneously honoring and connecting to her Indonesian and Caribbean ancestry with her bright color palette. In her paintings, globular forms float in time and space, appearing to both emerge and submerge, as seen in The Voyage (2022). Nemelc’s figures belong to the future as much as to the past, undulating into existence over and over again.
Nemelc provokes a conversation of the disappearing and dying, as well. She underscores the resilience of organic beings in the face of climate change by introducing expansive fields of startling blood red and soothing verdant green. The latter is a reference to Antarctica’s moss, the only plant species that can withstand life on the frozen continent. The inspiration behind the red color choice is just as startingly delightful. It references Blood Falls, a glacier in East Antarctica that oozes iron oxide–tainted saltwater. This natural time capsule holds an alien ecosystem that blossoms with life in the dire conditions of a subglacial lake.
In her paintings, Nemelc questions the inclination for passivity and observation as it relates to the preservation of land and spirit. She considers environmentalism and sustainability in her own process and practices from her fifth-floor art studio, where finite sunlight guides the beginning and end of her work days.
Thumbnail image: Bianca Nemelc, “Woman of Moss,” 2022. Courtesy of Hashimoto Contemporary.